Chikun—what?

Kristy Murray urges preventative action in the United States against Chikungunya, a dangerous virus spread by mosquitoes which has already reached the Caribbean.

It’s best to start learning how to pronounce the word “Chikungunya” (chik-en-gūn-ya): this crippling virus that is spread by mosquitoes could soon be making landfall to a city near you.

Chikungunya Vector Aedes Aegypti Image Credit: James Gathany (PHIL, CDC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chikungunya Vector Aedes aegypti
Image Credit: James Gathany (PHIL, CDC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chikungunya virus can cause a very severe disease in people, with fevers, headaches, and painfully debilitating joint pain that can last for months to years.  The word “chikungunya” is African (Makonde) in origin and translates to “that which bends up.”  People infected with this virus are literally bent up from the extreme joint pain they experience.  The virus is spread from person to person through Aedes species mosquitoes -  very aggressive day feeders that are widespread throughout the Americas.

This virus was originally identified in Africa more than 50 years ago.  During the first decade of the millennium, the virus began to spread rapidly to India, islands throughout the Indian Ocean, and other parts of Asia.  In 2007, it took only one infected person to travel from India to Italy to create a major outbreak, sickening more than 200 people.
Continue reading »

Category: General | 1 Comment

Advances in HIV Mucosal Immunology: Challenges and Opportunities

Florian Hladik from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, USA, explains why recent research on how to study the rectal and genital mucosa – featured in the new PLOS Collection Advances in HIV Mucosal Immunology: Challenges and Opportunities will be key to developing an effective HIV vaccine.

Image Credit: Artistic rendition of immune cells and potential HIV targets in the rectal mucosal. Yang, Ochoa, Preza & Anton, 2014

Image Credit: Artistic rendition of immune cells and potential HIV targets in the rectal mucosal. Yang, Ochoa, Preza & Anton, 2014

People most often become infected with HIV through sexual transmission; accordingly, their initial exposure to the virus is in their genital or rectal mucosa. Consequently, the best opportunity to prevent HIV transmission is through interventions that affect the mucosa. For example, new HIV infections could be prevented by reducing the amount of virus in the genital fluids of infected people or by stopping HIV from establishing productive infections in the genital or rectal mucosa of uninfected people. In order to design HIV interventions that work this way, we must first understand how best to study the mucosa so that we can determine whether test interventions are effective.
Continue reading »

Category: Collections, HIV | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Malaria Control in Emergencies: Time for Action

Estrella Lasry, Tropical Advisor to MSF, on measures taken by the organisation to predict and prevent malaria outbreaks in emergency situations.

Credit: Anna Surinyach/MSF

Credit: Anna Surinyach/MSF

A lunar landscape, cracked earth and scorching heat. 4,000 rudimentary tents made from wooden poles and plastic sheeting. And people everywhere, 95% of them women and children, according to camp authorities, and a few men, hoping at least to find safety and security, and perhaps even to make a first step towards  a new life. It’s another day at one of the refugee camps where Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) is working in Ethiopia, and “home” to thousands of South Sudanese people fleeing the latest wave of violence in their country. Any day now the rainy season will begin, bringing floods and creating endless breeding sites for mosquitoes, and with them a new spike in malaria.
Continue reading »

Category: MSF | Comments Off

Greater Clarity and Recognition of Who Did What in the Publication of Research

Jo Scott and Liz Allen, from the Wellcome Trust’s Evaluation team, discuss the potential of a new “taxonomy” for classifying contributions to research papers.

Image Credit: Kate Arkless Gray

Image Credit: Kate Arkless Gray

Original research papers with one author – particularly in the life sciences – are increasingly rare. We know that there are many contributors to research and associated published outputs, but it’s not easy to tell who did what, and author position is an imperfect representation of contribution. Inflation of author numbers on papers, partly driven by a combination of national research assessment exercises and the emergence of big, collaborative and ‘team’ science, has also contributed to this ambiguity. Greater clarity around the different and varied contributions to research outputs could have benefits for all the stakeholders in research.

The recent San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment emphasised a commitment to move away from Journal Impact Factor as a measure of research quality. Initiatives that would bring greater clarity to authorship would provide a new basis upon which to recognise researcher contribution and research use and re-use.
Continue reading »

Category: General | 2 Comments

Acid violence – a most horrific form of denigration of women

Jocalyn Clark urges the global health community to press for high level change in legislation regarding acid violence.

At a recent social function benefiting the Acid Survivors Foundation, I learned about an insidious worldwide problem that barely figures on the global health radar, but should.

Acid violence, sometimes called acid throwing or an acid attack, involves throwing or pouring acid onto a person with the intent of killing or maiming them. The effects are heinous: the corrosive acid, usually sulfuric or nitric acid but sometimes bleach or petrol, melts skin, the eyes, ears, and bone, disfiguring the victim and often destroying their ability to speak, eat, see, and hear. The mental health consequences are as bad as the physical, it is reported, especially if the perpetrator is someone known to the victim, like a boyfriend, husband, or father. Fear, anxiety, depression, the inability to work or go to school, and the social isolation and stigma associated with disfigurement are wide ranging effects that greatly impact victims. They are often abandoned by their families and communities, and physical disfigurement is often permanent. Meeting several acid violence survivors at the charity event, and reading the Foundation’s materials that included photographs of others – mostly young girls; I found this heartbreaking.

That acid violence almost entirely affects women, and that the acid is thrown at the face to destroy what is seen by many as a woman’s most important asset, her beauty, makes it a particularly horrific form of gender-based violence. Acid violence is often retaliation for women exercising rights such as spurning sexual advances or rejecting a marriage proposal, or to do with family land or dowry demands. In other words, it’s a true denigration of a woman’s rights and identity.
Continue reading »

Category: General | 1 Comment

Lessons that Last: 200 Pearls and Counting

PLOS Pathogens Pearls Editor Joseph Heitman reflects on the success of Pearls, an Open Access compendium of the “lessons that last”, and introduces the new Flipboard collection.

In the face of this inevitable ebb and flow of focus and attention, how are we to teach students the “lessons that last” or “the facts of a field” while keeping current? 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000499

“In the face of this inevitable ebb and flow of focus and attention, how are we to teach students the ‘lessons that last’ or ‘the facts of a field’ while keeping current?” Madhani et al. (2009) 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000499

The PLOS Pathogens Pearls mini-review series publishes concise reviews (less than 1500 words and a limited number of references), which take stock of recent exciting advances in the field of microbial pathogenesis.  Pearls are not meant to be comprehensive treatises on a subject, but to condense information in a field broadly into units that advance understanding and education, encouraging further inquiry and reading.  They span all areas of interest to the journal and to its readership, including bacteriology, virology, parasitology, studies on prions, human and plant fungal pathogens and interactions, and host-pathogen interactions spanning innate and adaptive immunity.

The founding editor for the Pearls series was Hiten Madhani, and the series was launched in June 2009.  The initial years for the series were formative ones, forged by a single editor and publishing on average approximately one Pearl per month. Today 1-2 Pearls are published every week, and a team of 8 editors head the Pearls editorial effort: Vincent Racaniello (viruses), Joe Heitman (fungi), Rich Condit (viruses), Katherine Spindler (viruses), Bill Goldman (fungi and bacteria), Virginia Miller (bacteria), Laura Knoll (parasites), and Heather True (prions).
Continue reading »

Category: Collections | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Learning from the South: influenza immunization in pregnancy

Writing from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jocalyn Clark celebrates the impact of a paper by Bangladeshi researchers on Western medical provision.

When two worlds collide in global health it can be a marvelous thing. Take for example the fact that although countries like the US and UK have recommended influenza immunization during pregnancy for many years, there was no evidence from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to support the importance of that policy for birth outcomes until now. And the RCT to provide the needed evidence was not done in North America or Europe, but in Bangladesh by an international team, providing critical insights to help guide clinical practice, immunization policy, and women’s informed decision-making.

Image Credit: Steven Depolo, Flickr

Image Credit: Steven Depolo, Flickr

The Bangladesh evidence, drawn from secondary analyses of an RCT involving 340 pregnant women, shows that a flu shot given in the third trimester increased the mean birth weight of infants by 200 grams. These data are valuable for evidence-based health policy and care: women who get flu during pregnancy (especially late pregnancy) may risk complications for themselves or their babies, and yet there is low uptake of vaccination – in Canada, for example, less than one in five pregnant women has had a recent flu shot.

The low uptake may be because previous findings on influenza immunization in pregnancy and birth outcomes have been mixed: North American studies conducted during the 2009 pandemic suggested that vaccination reduced the risk of preterm birth, but most studies done during ordinary flu seasons have not found a link between vaccination and lower risk of prematurity.


Continue reading »

Category: General | 1 Comment

Promoting Scientific Publications from Authors Overseas

PLOS NTDs Deputy Editor Daniel Bausch reflects on a Manuscript Writing Workshop recently conducted in Lima, Peru.

On February 19, 2014, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases and the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene held a manuscript writing workshop in Lima, Peru, as part of the annual Peru satellite meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).  Amy Morrison and I, both PLOS NTDs Deputy Editors living and working in Peru, discussed our approach to writing, reviewing, and editing scientific manuscripts with a group of about 200 young Peruvian scientists.

Audience of the NTDs and ASTMH Writing Workshop. Image Credit Roxana Lescano

Audience of the NTDs and ASTMH Writing Workshop. Image Credit Roxana Lescano

Some of the obstacles to publication from authors overseas are obvious, such as the language barrier in a scientific world presently dominated by English. Others are more subtle, and perhaps more universal. How do you get started? What journal do you choose? What happens if you get rejected? The intimidation of young writers (naively thinking that peer-review is a perfect system!) was palpable. Amy and I did our best to go through the various steps of writing, submission and review. I think it helped for the young scientists to see that people who write and review and edit manuscripts are just “real people.” No intimidation necessary. Amy and I probably learned as much as the attendees; going through each step (how do you write the Abstract? the Intro? the Methods?), we often discovered that we had slightly different approaches and pointers to offer.


Continue reading »

Category: General | 2 Comments

The Elderly: A neglected population with neglected tropical diseases

Image Credit: Flickr, Vinoth Chandar

Image Credit: Flickr, Vinoth Chandar

According to the World Health Organization, many of the world’s developed countries consider 65 years as the chronological age when people are considered “elderly,” while the United Nations uses the ages of 60 and above.  However, in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere the cutoff age is often lower such as 50 or 55 years.

This month, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases published a new study by Rowe et al. from Singapore on dengue fever in the elderly (> 60 years of age).  Among their interesting findings were that the elderly had longer hospital admissions, and had higher rates of pneumonia and urinary infections.  Overall, the elderly had more dengue hemorrhagic fever and severe dengue.
Continue reading »

Category: Dengue, Neglected Diseases | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Tackling Cholera in Haiti: A Multi-Faceted Approach

The PLOS medical journals reflect on Haiti’s cholera epidemic, and the value of moving forward with an emphasis on holistic practice and research.

Image Credit: FMSC, Flickr

Image Credit: FMSC, Flickr

Almost three years ago, in May of 2011, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases published a Viewpoints piece, Meeting Cholera’s Challenge to Haiti and the World: A Joint Statement on Cholera Prevention and Care, which urged the development of a “comprehensive, integrated strategy” in response to Haiti’s 2010 cholera epidemic. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that the outbreak now includes over 650,000 survivors and 8,100 fatal cases. Indeed, the epidemic has had enormous repercussions for a nation already facing the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

At PLOS, research and opinion from across the medical journals, and this blog, have grappled with the issues raised by that first joint statement. The topics have ranged from an investigation of mass vaccination feasibility to an analysis of Haiti’s water-borne bacteria, and each article has helped to build an important new knowledge base. Though the task of ending cholera in Haiti remains daunting, this knowledge ensures that future efforts can be faster, more thorough, and ultimately, more successful.
Continue reading »

Category: Cholera, MSF | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off